NASA’s Curiosity Rover is currently drilling holes on the lower slopes of Mount Sharp in a region called the Stimson Unit. It recently took a break from its duties to take some long-range photos of a hilly region that the rover will explore in the coming months and years.

This composite image was captured by the rover on September 9, 2015. That long ridge in the foreground is located about 2 miles (3 km) from the rover and is filled with an iron oxide called hematite. Beyond that lies a hilly plain rich in clay minerals. Further still are a number of rounded buttes, all high in sulfate minerals. All these features suggest extensive interactions with running water billions of years ago. NASA intends on sending Curiosity to these regions in the near future.

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“The only thing more stunning than these images is the thought that Curiosity will be driving through those lower hills one day,” noted Curiosity Project Scientist Ashwin Vasavada in a release. “We couldn’t help but send a postcard back to all those following her journey.”

Astute observers will notice that the sky appears blue in this photo. Normally, the Martian sky is a light butterscotch color, so I contacted NASA for an explanation.

“The colors are adjusted so that rocks look approximately as they would if they were on Earth, to help geologists interpret the rocks,” responded David Agle, who works at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “This ‘white balancing’ to adjust for the lighting on Mars overly compensates for the absence of blue on Mars, making the sky appear light blue and sometimes giving dark, black rocks a blue cast.”

Image: NASA/JPL.

On a related note, Martian sunsets are actually blue (above). You can find out why here.

[ NASA JPL ]


Email the author at george@gizmodo.com and follow him at @dvorsky. Top image by NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS